Midway: Why did the Japanese Lose?

Midway: Why did the Japanese Lose?

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The Battle of Midway (1942) has been by some described as a turning point in the Pacific War. The question is: Why did the Japanese Lose? Or maybe: Why did the Americans win? During my research I came across several different perspectives namely those of Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully and those of James Levy. All of them make good points. Yet, what were the key elements? US Intelligence? Japanese Oversights? Victory Disease? A flawed plan? Limited Preparation? The Odds? Failed Recon? After all Operation MI was a complicated plan, but the Japanese clearly had the initiative as well.

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Parshall, Jonathan B.; Tully, Anthony P.: Shattered Sword. The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Potomac Books: United States, 2007.

Levy, James P.: Research & Debate. Was there something unique to the Japanese that lost the Battle of Midway? In: Naval War College Review, Winter 2014, Vol. 67, No. 1, p. 119-124

Tully, Anthony; Yu, Lu: A Question of Estimates. How Faulty Intelligence Drove Scouting at the Battle of Midway. In: Naval War College Review, Spring 2015, Vol. 68, No. 2, p. 85-99

Parshall, Jonathan B.: Grading Midway’s Commanders. In: Naval History Magazine – June 2017, Volume 31, Number 3.

Evans, David C.; Peattie, Mark R.: Kaigun – Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the IMPERIAL JAPANESE NAVY 1887-1941. US Naval Institute Press: United States, 2012.

Tagaya, Osamu: The Imperial Japanese Air Forces, In: Higham & Harris: Why Air Forces Fail

Spector, Ronald H.: Eagle against the Sun. The American War with Japan. Cassell & Co: Cornwall, UK, 2000.

Lundstrom, John B.: The First Team. Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway. US Naval Institute Press: United States, 2005.

Drea, Edward J.: In Service of the Emperor

Giangreco, D. M.: Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan

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  1. I would add that Japanese as language is extremely hard to code due to Kanji. Kanji a character has a direct meaning. To code over 5000 characters could not be done. They were stuck using Hirogama. Romaji was not heavily used at this point. The other issie was dialect issues between Okinawa even in the 90s this was still pretty distant.The most fatal was not storeing the wrapons after the weapons swap on the planes.

  2. Why did the Japanese lose it's called superstition they believe that their God was going to give them supreme power in whatever they did superstition you know burning incense Channing but the good old USA well we serve the god that made the Heaven and Earth and his son Jesus and with God's help prayer going up from many American citizens and our men fighting on both fronts Japanese on one side and the Germans on the other

  3. As an airfirce cadet, i was once made to war game the Battle of midway playing the part of an officer in the IGN. What was unusual about this scenario was that information was drip fed to us just as the fleet commanders would have received it and with the same timing they would have experienced. The lesson wasn't lost on any of us.

    The continuous waves of poorly coordinated inneffective US attacks throughout the day would have exhausted the Japanese pilots and created refueling/rearming issues and hampered any hope of continuing the strike against Midway.

    No matter what we had decided to do in-game, the priority would still have been to protect the carriers and this meant our pilots were literally flying combat, some from dawn till mid afternoon. . .

    In real life, once combat began, the US initially did everything wrong, forcing the defending pilots to stay in the air for hours to protect the fleet.
    Eventually the Americans arrived in force and carried out a coordinated attack & it was essentially over in a few crucial minutes.
    The only other option was for the IGN to leave, which would have been unthinkable to their mindset.

  4. In wargaming before the Midway attack, one scenario had the American carriers in the area and significant damage to the Japanese carriers. They overruled the umpires and felt that the carriers would not sortie until they attacked Midway.

  5. I love the academic structure of your presentation. Love all the book citations up front…not the”i’ve put the citation links below”which is what others do! TY! Very interesting !

  6. I'm seeing some comments saying that if Japan had done X or Y, they would have won Midway and the war. Well, I will give it that it's possible they could have won Midway if they'd done everything right and if the Americans instead had made many mistakes. But winning the war? No way. During World War II we devoted 15% of our military production to defeating Japan and 85% of our military budget to defeating Hitler (prior to his defeat of course). Why, Lend Lease alone constituted as much production as the entire pacific theatre. Had Midway gone Japan's way, we could have increased that 15% to 20% and Hitler would have done a little better in North Africa for a time, but the end result would have been largely the same.

  7. Japan lost 4 carriers in the battle to none for the US…that was the "incredible" or "miracle" aspect. The carrier the Is a list was sunk returning to Pearl Harbor, though heavily damaged, if not for the sub attack it would of made it home.

  8. Yamamoto lived in the US and studied at Harvard, so I dont think he had the contempt for the U.S. as did some of his peers. However, I dont think he grasped basic American values either (and how could he, in 3 years). Americans have an overwrought and sometimes warped sense of fair play (which is an oxymoron in war anyway). The 'surprise' attack on Pearl Harbor was viewed with such outrage and subsequent resolve that he probably could never have seen coming. Its funny when you think about it, because most attacks are 'surprise' attacks. Poland in 39, Russia in 41, Custer in 1876…Who lets their opponent know theyre coming? They protested the rate of fire for the German MG-42, but had no problem with the liberal application of back and tank-mounted flame throwers used against infantry. I'm rambling. Point is, the biggest mistake the Japanese made was not tactical. It was their inability to fully understand how the attack could be viewed by the American public and how that would galvanize American resolve to win. This was also the mistake that Hitler made in the Blitz against Britain.

  9. There was never any turning point in the war. From the start, the Japanese were playing with scared money, they could not afford to lose almost any battle, since it was almost impossible to replace their loses soon enough. The Americans knew from the day of Pearl Harbor that they would win the war, so they could afford almost any lose this early in the war.
    This is even why the Japanese really lost at Pearl Harbor. They were more concerned with returning the Fleet home intact then winning.

  10. Everything had NOT gone smoothly for Japan prior to Midway because of the failure in the Battle of the Coral Sea to open the way to Australia. It was as major defeat for Japan, despite the seeming equality of losses, because Japan had FAILED in accomplishing its objective. There were other losses prior to Midway, but Coral Sea was the most significant.